Leeds Utd 2 (Rodrigo 14, Gelhardt 90+4)
Norwich C 1 (McLean 90+1)
Wow! That’s another one for the all-time memorable games at Elland Road portfolio. It looked like we’d blown not only the three points but maybe our Premier League status when Norwich aimed that sucker punch at our solar plexus in the first minute of added time. But there is a special talent that is called Joffy Gelhardt and he appears to have not only an incredible talent for changing the direction of a game but also the ability to do it almost to order! As Stuart Dallas said after the game: "This is why you play football, for moments like this". I've got news for you Stuey, It's why we watch it too!
This was another must-win game for Leeds, forget all the other must-win games we’d already not won this season, this one was of the last chance saloon type! We’d played pretty well too, for 90 minutes or more, taking an early lead and creating the better chances in a game between two sides operating under immense pressure. For once we got the rub of the green too as Patrick Bamford failed to get to a ball that would probably have had him ruled offside, while Rodrigo was able to wallop the ball off the very toes of Dan James to spear it into the corner of the net. It was not the only rub of the green we’d get.
That was in the 14th minute of the game and from then to the first minute of added time at the end of the game, we held that slender lead. We had other chances to put the game safe, chances that on another day, in less stressful conditions, we may have put away – always remembering though that finishing off chances has not been our strong suit for many a long month. Raphinha latched onto a clever lob by Patrick Bamford and volleyed it against the bar from six yards out and Pascal Struijk won a header from a left-wing corner (a surprise in itself with our poor record at corners) but then spooned the ball over the top from less distance than Raphinha’s effort. That meant the fans were reasonably happy albeit still nervous as the halftime whistle blew.
In the second half, there was a close call as Norwich substitute Jonathan Rowe crashed a shot against the Leeds bar and then we all had our heads in our hands as referee Stuart Attwell pointed to the penalty spot after Milot Rashica toppled over in the Leeds area. It looked pretty theatrical to me and I was a hundred yards away! Fortunately, VAR came to the rescue – are any Leeds fans still not in favour of it? This is precisely why I think VAR is a good thing; this was seen by Mike Dean on VAR to be exactly what it was, an attempt by Rashica to con the referee, standing on Ayling’s ankle and then going down as if he’d actually been fouled. All power to Mike Dean (for once) in a) spotting it and b) for calling the attention of referee Attwell to it. The penalty was overturned but, in my view, Rashica should then have been booked for the heinous crime of diving; to my knowledge, there has still not been a single yellow card given in the Premier League this season for this crime against football. No matter, this time, justice was done.
Whilst on the subject of referees, another shout-out for VAR here, Stuart Attwell put in a shameful performance in the middle today and VAR at least prevented him from being the deciding factor in this game.
Still Leeds laboured to try to put the game beyond the plucky Canaries and Raphinha, looking a bit more like his old self if not perhaps yet back to his Brazilian best, crashed another free-kick against the angle, not for the first time this season. We were still open to that sucker punch of course and there was an air of inevitability as Pukki latched onto a long ball getting past Pascal Struijk in the process before lashing the ball across the face of goal where McLean was quicker than Llorente. At that moment, the fragility of our defending was laid bare for all to see again – especially as we were now in added time at the end and we ought to have been in ‘closing out the game’ mode. There are question marks now over both Struijk and Llorente, not specifically for their part in allowing this goal, but for several goals since the turn of the year where one or other of them has been in the picture when we’ve conceded.
It felt like the end of our chances this season to me, like the end of our short stay in the Premier League, this blow could so easily have left us bereft of all belief going forward. The appearance of Joffy Gelhardt on the touchline brought a glimmer of a dream ending to the game… but to be honest, none of us really believed it would happen.
You know what though, I honestly believe Joffy Gelhardt believed, in fact, I reckon he believes he can affect any game he takes part in; quite why he has been so rarely used in a season when sticking the ball in the net has proved such a difficult task for us…. goodness only knows.
A long clearance from Illan Meslier was, improbably, won in the air by the young striker, knocking it perfectly into the path of the alert Raphinha. It still needed winning by Raphinha but he was strong enough to do that, robbing the ball away from Brandon Williams and then going past Tim Krul in the Norwich goal. It looked like his touch was too strong and he’d gone too wide so his only hope now was to pull the ball back across goal and hope a team-mate was there. Of course a teammate would be there; it's what Joffy Gelhardt was born to do!
And that was that! Elland Road was a cauldron of limbs and tears and cheers and roars and hope! With news coming through that Watford had pulled off an unlikely win at Southampton, the three points for Leeds looked even more valuable, and news of another Everton defeat helped too. We are not out of the woods yet, there is plenty of work still to do but this win, against the odds so close to the end, will be a huge confidence boost as we go forward into these final nine games. And, if anyone is tempted to suggest that Joffy Gelhardt is not a vital part of this run-in, have a think, not about the poacher's goal he scored, but about that header he won to set Raphinha away. There is more to this lad than scoring goals – although, God only knows we’ve been short of those!
Possession 53% 47%
Shots 13 12
On Target 7 4
Corners 6 2
Fouls 18 8